President's Column

Monday, March 5

Workforce development begins young, continues over lifetime

We all want our kids to grow up in a state with good-paying job prospects and the training to match them.

Today, there is a laser focus by our association’s membership and other groups about the need to fill the workforce pipeline with skilled, job-ready workers. There simply aren’t enough workers to fill the high-tech, high-wage jobs available in our state and nation.

We’re working to address that problem by advocating for robust career and technical programming in our middle and high schools, training and certificate programs for high-demand jobs at our state’s community and technical colleges.

We’ll be talking about those very issues at the second-annual AWB Workforce Summit on March 21 in Bellevue. Matt Poischbeg, vice president of SEA-LECT Plastics in Everett, will deliver the keynote address. Poischbeg will share how apprenticeship changed his life and why he believes employers should invest in the under-used work-based learning program.

However, as we focus on the immediate problem of closing the skills gap to build the workforce for today’s high-tech careers, we must also recognize the need to start kids off early in their love of learning and exposure to the myriad of educational and career options. That’s why we’re also hosting an early childhood education event a month later in the Seattle area.

We’re looking at ways to address both immediate workforce challenges and explore long-term solutions.

Waiting until kids reach high school, or even middle school, we believe, is too late to start engaging students in the process of career exploration and training

The Washington Roundtable’s report “Washington Kids 4 Washington Jobs” advocates for a “cradle to career” approach to raising the postsecondary attainment rate and preparing students for job opportunities in the state.

In fact, only 31 percent of Washington high schoolers go on to earn a post-secondary credential, according to the report.

We can and must do much better for our students, schools and employers.

Part of the solution is creating a robust early learning system in the state. While some progress has been made, which is evident in the growth of early learning centers across Washington, there is opportunity for our state to support and grow our early childhood learning efforts and streamline our education system to allow students to truly understand their options and apply the K-12 learning experience to job training skills in their post-secondary career.

Research shows that a child’s ability to read proficiently at grade level by third-grade is a key indicator to future educational success and lessen the high school dropout rate.

Reading is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to young learners. We’ll discuss the many facets of early childhood education on April 17.

It will be our time to hear from experts on policy addressing expansion of a quality early learning system in the Unites States and Washington state, as well as employers who have invested in early childhood learning programs. They have recognized that an investment in early childhood learning not only benefits their current employees, but also helps to prepare the next generation of workforce.

It’s not just about workforce development, though it is one key factor; it’s about setting up today’s Washington state students for success from their early days of learning to robust programs later in their educational career.

I think we can all agree that we want Washington kids to fill Washington jobs. That means educational opportunities that are offered at a young age and continue through a lifetime – whether students are 12 years away from graduation, or one.

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